The early stages of the NHL draft brought about a number of surprising moves around the league. Juraj Slafkovsky going number one, Shane Wright falling all the way to the Kraken at four, and a multitude of trades. After a lot of speculation, the Islanders did wind up joining the trading fray with their 13th overall pick. However, the return in this trade was not for a forward, as many had hoped and anticipated. Instead, they traded the pick to the Canadiens for 22-year-old defenseman Alexander Romanov and the 98th overall pick.
Acquiring Romanov fulfills an important role for the Islanders heading into next season. The team was looking for a puck moving defenseman on the left side to replace Chara, and Romanov is exactly that. He’s a strong skater who’s also effective at getting the puck up the ice. Another thing the Islanders will love about Romanov is his physical game. He hits heavy and often as shown by his 227 hits last season (two shy of Cal Clutterbuck’s 229). What’s also encouraging about Romanov is his usage last season in Montreal. Per Hockey Reference, he started 57.3% of his shifts in the defensive zone in addition to being a regular part of the Canadiens PK unit.
The only downside of Romanov’s game is that it’s still somewhat in development. He isn’t a great offensive producer and had some early season struggles all around. However, he showed some evident improvement in every area when Martin St. Louis took over the coaching gig in Montreal. If he continues to build on that late season improvement, he could be a tremendous steal for the Islanders. And given how young he is, there is plenty of time for that development and maturation to come about. But even if he plays at just the same level he did during the second half of last season, he figures to be a solid defensive defenseman to pair with Noah Dobson.
Was This The Right Move?
The talent and potential of Romanov is undeniable. However, one has to wonder if the Islanders would’ve been better off pursuing a forward. There were a lot of potential options that came and went during the early stages of the offseason. Kevin Fiala, a 25-year-old coming off a 30 goal season, went for a pick much later than the Islanders at 13. Then there was Alex DeBrincat, another young player with two 40 goal seasons, who went for a fairly low price compared to what was being reported. And of course you have J.T. Miller, also a 30 goal scorer who, allegedly, was very close to becoming an Islander before management chose to go in this direction. With passing on those opportunities, the Islanders passed on a few surefire chances to upgrade their goal scoring forwards. The offseason still lies ahead, but that’s never a sure thing.
Trading this pick for Romanov on its own is far from a bad move. He’s a great acquisition that has really great current and long term potential. But when you add the context of what was available for another, arguably more important area the team needed to upgrade at, this trade becomes somewhat questionable. In reality, it’ll be hard to accurately grade this trade until we see how the rest of the offseason plays out. If the Islanders can land a big scoring forward, then this trade looks a whole lot better. But if they miss out in that regard, then it looks as though blew a huge opportunity fix one of their biggest issues. For now, it ranks as a solid investment to fulfill an area of need with a quality young player.
With adding a left side defenseman off the checklist, the full focus shifts towards upgrading at forward. If Lou Lamiorello and company are planning to go free agent hunting, expect more moves to come. To realistically be in any of the races for the premier free agent forwards (Gaudreau, Forsberg, Kadri, etc.), they’re going to have to clear more cap space. That would presumably include trading some combination of Anthony Beauvillier, Semyon Varlamov and Josh Bailey. If they’re able to do that, they’ll have the monetary flexibility to keep up with the other contenders for these players. Upgrading via trade is still a possibility, but feels a lot less likely without the enticing lottery pick to offer. Still, names like Matthew Tkachuk, Vladimir Tarasenko and even possibly Patrick Kane are potential trade opportunities the team could pursue. While their next move remains a mystery, it is almost certain that acquiring Romanov is only the first of many moves soon to come.
Featured image courtesy of Todd Korol
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